Food philosophy: Eat your beans

Wow, I feel like I wrote my first “Food Philosophy” post (on fad diets) yesterday, not two months ago — time really does fly!  In that post, I mentioned beans as an innocent victim of low-carb diets.

Beans (as in legumes, dried or canned) are a fabulous food: high in fiber, good source of vegetarian protein,  and easy to store and transport.  Despite being vilified by some diets because of their high carbohydrate levels, they are a low Glycemic Index (GI) food, another factor in their favor, since low-GI diets are associated with reduced risk of a number of chronic diseases (including heart disease and type 2 diabetes).  In short, a food’s GI is a measure of how a particular food impacts blood sugar levels when consumed (you can read more about GI here).

The variety of beans is almost endless, and they can be prepared in many ways.  I try to incorporate a serving of beans (1/2 cup cooked beans) into at least one meal a day, which is relatively easy, with a bit of planning.

In grad school, I ate some variation on beans and rice for lunch almost every day.  I prepared a big batch at the beginning of the week, and had a cheap, nutritious, portable lunch easily at hand.  These days, the recipes are often a bit more complicated, but I enjoy going back to that staple, as in this oven-baked twist.

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Something about sitting in a hot oven for 45-minutes really elevated the flavor, making it almost creamy and cheesy (though no cream or cheese were involved).

Dry vs. Canned
Canned beans are convenient, but because of the BPA in can linings, I almost exclusively buy dry beans.  I can also buy dry beans in bulk, reusing my own bags, with little to no packaging waste.  You can read my full list of advantages of dry over canned in this post.

I rarely use the brining method for preparing dried beans mentioned in that post anymore.  First, it requires a quick soak, which uses more energy than an overnight soak.  Second, it wastes salt.  Sure, salt it cheap, but I realized I could get nearly the same effect (nicely salted beans) by doing a regular soak (either quick or overnight), cooking and draining and beans, and then adding salt directly to the hot, cooked beans and letting it soak in a bit before using the beans.

Quick tip: prepare twice as many dried beans as you need for a recipe/meal.  Freeze the extra cooked, cooled beans in a quart-sized freezer bag, and they’re ready when you need them, almost as fast as opening a can of beans!

Eat your beans
Until recently, if asked, I probably would have said that chickpeas (AKA garbanzo beans) were my favorite legume.  They still rank high, but over the last year, two other legumes stole my heart: lentils and cowpeas.

Lentils (or dal, in Indian cooking) rank high for their versatility.  I love blending well-cooked lentils into a variety of soups to make a hearty base.  They are also fabulous in chili (recipe post languishing in draft form).  Lentils also star in Snobby Joe’s, a vegetarian take on Sloppy Joe’s.  Unlike other legumes, many types of lentils don’t need to be soaked before cooking, so they’re great in a pinch, when you realize you forgot to soak beans for dinner.

Cowpeas come in an amazing number of forms.  If you’ve eaten black-eyed peas before, then you’ve had one type of cowpea.  Matthew grew one variety last summer (and Gabriel helped shell them).  Our harvest was enough for just a few meals, but they were delicious.

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For the past few years, we’ve been fortunate to have a local source for some of our beans.  Paul at Bellews Creek Farm grows two types of [dried] beans every year, usually black beans and something else.  This year, the “something else” was a type of cowpea: a pink-eyed cowpea.

Both varieties of cowpea — what we grew in our garden, and the pink-eyed peas from Bellews Creek — rank among the most flavorful beans I’ve ever had.  While I’ve incorporated them into a number of dishes, I also enjoy then straight-up, with just a bit of salt.  If you’re in StL, look for Bellews Creek beans in the bulk bins at Local Harvest Grocery.  Seriously, try some!

I hope to have that lentil chili recipe ready soon, but in the meantime, check out the other bean-y recipes on my recipe page.

Hunting for pawpaws

Several months ago, a friend shared a link to a website that maps fruit (and nut) trees in urban public spaces, i.e., an urban foraging map.  The concept kind-of boggled my mind.

If you knew the location of a great patch of raspberries, or a fabulous peach tree, why would you share that information with thousands of people on the internet?  I’m not sure about you, but the food hoarder in me says, “Sshhhh, don’t tell!”

I mean, even if the tree/bush/vines produced more than you could consume and preserve, why not share the information with a small, select group of people, ensuring that your source wouldn’t be overwhelmed?

Apparently some people don’t share my reservations, as they are sharing their spots for edible treasure at FallingFruit.org.

Anyhow, when I checked the map for nearby options, I discovered a marker for pawpaw trees, saying that the fruit ripened in early September.  We have a pair of pawpaw trees out at the garden, but they’re babies and won’t bear fruit for a few years.  Pawpaws are unreliably available at the farmers’ market, and you pay a premium.  Time to forage!

After double checking the map, and the description of the tree as “tropical looking” I headed out on my bicycle early Saturday morning.  I arrived in the indicated area, and spotted a tree that looked promising . . .

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. . .  or not.  Despite leaves that could possibly be described as “tropical looking,” I quickly determined that cone/fruit thing was not a pawpaw.  And yes, if I had a bit more tree identifying experience, I would have known right away that the tree in question was a magnolia.

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I did a bit of off-roading, circling the indicated area on my bike, looking for other likely subjects.  Finding none, I did a quick check of another section of the park, thinking perhaps the marker on the map was placed incorrectly.

That effort yielded this fruit, perhaps a walnut?  Or some other kind of nut?

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But still no pawpaws.  Were they just not there?  Had the trees not set fruit this year?  Had someone misidentified it?

I headed home at that point, wanting to beat the heat and more intense sun rays.  I would have been quite annoyed had I used the car and struck out, but, as it was, I got a nice bike ride out of the deal.

I reviewed the maps and website again for this post and realized that my exact foraging location was based on some kind of Google maps foraging tool, and not the map at Falling Fruit.  The FF map shows a slightly different location for the pawpaw trees — kind-of the same area, but different enough to be outside the area I searched, so now I’m debating a return trip.

Your Turn: What would you do with fruit foraging locations, share or keep it quiet?

Child labor

One of Matthew’s new crops this year was a bean that you grow for the dried bean.  Theoretically, you can grow almost any kind of green bean until the seeds/beans fully ripen and the pods dry, but certain varieties are grown with that in mind.

From time-t0-time, I read a lovely blog called A Life Sustained, where the author, Courtney, writes about creative, Montessori-learning-type activities with real-world objects for her toddler son.  I admire, and am inspired by, her efforts, but I’m not gonna lie, thinking up and carrying out projects like that is not really something to which I aspire.  And, yes, I feel at least a bit of mommy-guilt over this fact.

Last week, I soothed some of that guilt when I stumbled upon bean-shelling as an engaging, real- and natural-world toddler activity.  Perhaps it would be more fair to say that Gabriel discovered it, as it was his initial interest in the pile of dried beans left sitting on the floor.

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I grabbed the beans and pulled out a metal cake pan, and we plopped down on the floor and went to work.

It’s pretty amazing what toddlers can do.  At just over two-years-old, Sir has the dexterity to shell the beans, a decent bit of focus to stick with the activity, and the knowledge that the de-beaned pods go in the compost bucket.

He also knows, but sometimes needs to be reminded, that we have to make the dry beans hot (i.e., cook them) before they are good to eat.

Since decent dry beans are relatively easy and affordable to buy, Matthew is debating whether or not to grow this crop in future years.  The toddler-entertainment factor may make the case for keeping them in the rotation.

Eat your greens!

When we learned that Matthew was going to be on anticoagulant medication (Coumadin/warfarin) for awhile, one of our big questions was about eating foods that are high in vitamin K.

Vitamin K plays a major role in blood clotting, as it is needed by many of the proteins that help blood clot.  However, that means vitamin K works at cross-purposes with the warfarin:

Large quantities of dietary or supplemental vitamin K can overcome the anticoagulant effect of vitamin K antagonists [e.g., warfarin], so patients taking these drugs are cautioned against consuming very large or highly variable quantities of vitamin K in their diets.  Experts now advise a reasonably constant dietary intake of vitamin K that meets current dietary recommendations (90-120 mcg/day) for patients on vitamin K antagonists like warfarin (source).

Foods highest in vitamin K include kale (660 mcg per half-cup cooked) and collard greens (520 mcg per half-cup cooked).  While the majority of the American public is not in danger of consuming high doses of vitamin K, and some would rejoice rather than mourn upon being instructed to severely reduce or eliminate these foods, our regular diet is a bit different than the majority of the American public, to put it mildly.

Matthew started taking warfarin just as our garden-grown greens (kale, collards, and Swiss chard*) really hit their stride.  We’ve been harvesting huge grocery bags full every week, and that seems to barely make a dent in the supply.

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Clockwise from top: kale (one of two varieties we grow), perpetual spinach chard, rainbow chard, collards, and some other kind of chard.

I prefer to be the one doing the harvesting, as Matthew’s idea of how many greens we can consume in a week (not to mention how much we can stuff into our poor refrigerator!) is a bit more optimistic than mine.

Fortunately, Matthew’s hematologist gave him the green light for continuing to eat a full serving of greens every day, with the caveat that he keep intake consistent.  Thus, while he previously wouldn’t have eaten a half-cup of cooked kale or collards every day, doing so is now part of his “medical” regimen.**

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The garden continues to produce in abundance, so supply is not a problem, though it was a bit tricky when we separated from the garden for our trip to Wisconsin.  We kept up the intake with lots of frozen grocery store spinach (560 mcg per half-cup cooked) — those little frozen boxes were convenient, but not near as tasty.

One thing I’ve discovered is that summer kale and chard do not at all resemble the tender leaves that I cook in spring, when I toss the still-damp, cut, rinsed leaves in our biggest cast iron skillet, cover to steam for a couple of minutes, and then finish uncovered, sauteing with a bit of oil, salt, and garlic.

Summer kale is a different beast entirely, with tougher, chewier leaves not suited for light cooking (or raw kale salads).  It will just laugh at those preparation methods as you sit trying to chew a mouthful of tough greens.

Much as I cringe at boiling those beautiful, nutrient-packed leaves, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.  Fortunately, there’s a happy medium between gross, boiled-to-death, pile of mush and too-tough-to-chew.

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Wash and chop the greens.  Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil.  Add your prepped greens to the boiling water.  Return to low boil and cook for 10-15 minutes.  Drain.

Now the greens are ready to be sauteed with onion and garlic or tossed into some kale-quinoa quiche.

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A recent dinner: stuffed zucchini with a side of garlicky sauteed collards.

If greens are half the “superfood” that some people claim, Matthew is well on his way to becoming Clark Kent!

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*Chard is lower in Vitamin K, with about 360 mcg per half-cup cooked, which means eating about two servings  a day.

** This post is not intended as medical advice.  If you are on anticoagulant/blood thinner medication, consult your physician before increasing your intake of vitamin K-rich foods.

Foods of summer

The garden kindly waited to hit its full summer stride until we returned from our trip.  After a week of being creative with frozen veggies, I was ready!

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The zucchini on the bottom right got away from us, but it was perfect for zucchini bread.  I whipped up a big batch and made some with chocolate chips as “cupcakes” for Sir’s belated birthday celebration with his childcare friends.

After I made them, I had a bit of baker’s regret, wondering if three- and four-year-old kids would go for my healthy treat: no frosting, made with whole wheat pastry flour, and chock full of grated zucchini and chopped pecans.

The kids’ verdict?  Yummy!

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I made use of the hot oven to roast some veggies for dinner that night: red beets, golden beets, and broccoli romanesco, served with pasta with garden veggie sauce and a side of garlicky collard greens.

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Garlic featured prominently in the roasting marathon.  Matthew peeled hundreds of cloves of garlic for a taste test of the twenty-four varieties he grew.  Unfortunately, my method of roasting the garlic in muffin tins, with individual varieties separated in the cups, and perhaps the fact that the cloves were already peeled, didn’t lead to the best roasting ever.

Edible, just not that really delicious carmelization that you can get with roasted garlic.  Matthew also sauteed several of the varieties to try them that way.

After all that work, our general conclusion is that the different kinds all taste like, you guessed it, garlic!

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Another meal, this one inspired by a magazine recipe for pasta with anchovies, walnuts, and raisins, served with tomato-topped kale and cannellini beans, plus some sauteed squash.

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Finally, this dish was actually a pre-vacation meal: a simple pasta salad with [raw] kale, spinach, and last year’s sun-dried tomatoes, dressed in olive oil, white wine vinegar, parm, and salt and pepper.  Some chopped olives would have made a welcome addition.

Unpictured eats: quinoa and summer squash salad, gazpacho, lentil chili, and garden veggie curry.

Stay tuned for some recipes, including more details on the polenta dish and a simple, refreshing cucumber salad.